Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Learning Curve 7

There were three sessions on Wednesday.  A lot happened in those sessions with two jaw-dropping results.  One was the way that Alex was able to hug Percy into what can only be described as a drugged state.  The other was the way he began to move as a result.  Emotions and physiology go hand in hand in my opinion.  Emotional tension leads to physical tension which locks in the emotional tension.  Trying to release one without the other creates temporary results at best.  The sessions Alex designed for Percy were a perfect blend of mental, emotional and physical stretching.  

I've consolidated the 3 sessions into one report for the purpose of this post:

Goal- continue to settle, build conditioned reinforcers, explore the turnaround.
Location- same figure 8 and basketball setup as yesterday afternoon plus a teeter totter.
Interest- yes in people and toys: he came right over, helped with manure picking (which he loves to do at home), offered hugs
Time- 10:30, 12:30 and 3:
Tempo- basket ball:3.5, figure eight: 4, "gives like butter" (Alex)
Equipment- cones, mat, hoop and loopie toy, round pen, teeter totter
Reinforcers- hay stretcher pellets, the basketball and teeter totter grew as reinforcers, the mat definitely became more reinforcing than ever.
Emotion- from tense to a drugged, sleepy high
Distractions- I tried standing on the shavings bags at one point which Percy did NOT like.  "Well aren't you volatile" (Alex). At the end he could be mildly distracted by noises outside but he came right back emotionally and attentively.  He wanted his head down.

In the initial session, we took turns with him.  One would do a tour around the figure 8, asking for little gives even when he was "squeezed" in the trouble spot. On completion of a circle, we'd stop on the mat for some hugs, then go off on the other portion of the 8 and back to the mat again.  When he gave really good responses to the bodywork/hugs, we'd go play basketball with the three of us and play on the new teeter totter.  

On the circles we were looking for good movement- straightness on a circle, yielding of his hips when asked without the tension and stiffness seen in the previous video.  On the mat, we were looking for gives to the hugs, using Alex's familiar definition of a give: "the body part should come alive with energy and move in the direction I want it to go".  The basketball allowed Percy to learn a new and fun game- a mental exercise.  The teeter totter was a new mental puzzle as well which also incorporated body control and physical stretches.  

Here is Percy on the teeter totter:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Learning Curve 6- spotlight moment

Once he finally calmed down enough to take a brief rest

OK, so- what I missed in Alex's work with Percy was that she actively asked for a response from him.  Rather than waiting for him to calm down, adjust on his own, and just decide to stay even through his anxiety, Alex asked for baby gives.  Her reasoning was based in a John Lyons story.  Many of us train by exposing our horses to as many things as possible.  We start when they are babies by introducing them to halters and ropes and grooming tools and our hands all over their body.  As they get older we add things they may see in their environment: dogs, vehicles, clippers, other animals, plastic bags or wrapped bales, farm equipment, livestock, bicycles, the plastic chain around a dressage arena, big horses, little horses, the trailer, groups of horses, the noise of a loudspeaker, a ribbon on the bridle, other horses galloping past, boots and bandages, the list goes on and on.  But, says John Lyons, what do you do the day an ostrich comes up the driveway?  Did you desensitize him to ostriches?  Or anything remotely like an ostrich?  Different animals have different capabilities for generalization- show them one dog and all dogs are OK or not.  In Percy's case, Black Angus cattle were OK but Holsteins were not.  I like to think this is because he is smart and can tell these subtle differences but I wouldn't mind if he wasn't so keenly aware!  

But the point is, you can't possibly expose them to everything in the world and what do you do when something new and different shows up?  What Alex says he needs to learn is, "even when you are afraid, you can respond to me".  I actually just typed "you need to respond to me" and then had to delete and retype when I looked at my notes because that is a significant difference.  "You need to" is taught and enforced with, well- force.  "You can" is slow, rewarding experiences which show that you are trustworthy in a scary situation.  This was not a light bulb moment but a spotlight moment.  Full on glare of a major piece that was missing from my approach of letting him be completely free to make decisions about whether to stay or leave.  If I waited until he was ready to listen, then I would always be waiting for him to determine if the environment was safe.  I need a way to tell him that I have determined the environment to be safe and so he can stop worrying and play with me.  A horse who isn't a worrier will be more ready to accept this idea.  A Percy is going to take some convincing.

Alex went on to say "if something no longer frightens him, it's no longer of use as a training tool- because you want to teach 'when you're afraid, you can still soften and listen to me'".  There's a glass half-full perspective.  The world is full of training tools.  I simply need to embrace the difficult situations as training opportunities.  I don't have to go far to find them.  As hyper vigilant as he is, I have had many opportunities to work on this right at home in the safety of his own barn and paddock.  

The reason she turned him around when he got worried was not to make him go back to the scary spot.  It was to ensure and practice getting a response when he is worried.  If he's worried about something behind him, he could just bolt off and leave town.  So when he got nervous and his head went up, she'd oh-so-softly ask him to yield his hips and turn.  I just love the way she verbalized it to him, "you're with me".  This was not a light bulb or even a spotlight but a lightning bolt.  Anyone who knows Alex's "Why Would You Leave Me" exercise appreciates the wording of it.  It's not "Hey Get Back Here".  It's "look at all the fun we can have together playing this game and you're getting all these treats, so why would you possibly want to leave?"  "You're with me" is a variation on this. It's not based not on all the fun we're having... the world can be a scary place and when the monsters are hiding under the bed is not when I want to get down on the floor and play tiddly-winks.  When the monsters are under the bed is when I want somebody I trust completely to say, "here, come with me and I'll keep you safe".  

In asking for these baby gives, you can see she wasn't using the big powerful Tai Chi wall to stop his running off.  I haven't built a reliable Tai Chi wall for her to use on him.  I guess perhaps there are horses you can use it on without ever teaching it (and I have), but with a Percy you'd get a 4 year old version of the hoof trimming explosion we got when he was a few weeks old.  So she slid down the rope without taking hold and asked for a turn.  She got a turn, but again we have the precision of Alex's work come in.  She didn't like the quality of the turn.  This isn't just about control- it's about balance and soundness and all that good stuff.  So that was the work to come.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Learning Curve 5 (the curve increases)

The next session (third of the day- what fun to have Alex all to ourselves!!) was the big aha for me.  The aha didn't really come until we were doing our record keeping afterward but I'll lead up to that.  

Goals- 1) assess any differences if we have Percy on a rope, rather than at liberty, 2) introduce the game of basketball, 3) continue to build comfort and connection toward the goal of riding him.  [My footnote- as far as I'm concerned it's a special brand of Alex magic that allows her to figure out that introducing a totally new behavior in the midst of an uneasy horse experience will be the right thing to do.]

Location- the closer half of the arena.  She set out a circle of cones between the round pen and the barn door with a mat between them.  This formed a figure 8 with the cone circle as the bottom part of the 8 and the round pen as the top half.  She set the mat where the two circles joined.  To the right of the 8 was the open wall, which was so very distracting to Percy.  To the left of the 8 she put her toy basketball hoop.  

Basketball: 3-> 4.5 (yes, we now have ranges of numbers)
Figure eight: 3-> 4.3
Hugs: 3.6 -> 4.9

Time- 3:15 to 4: in the afternoon 

Tempo- Basketball: 3, Figure 8: variable depending on position on the 8

Equipment- pen, cones, mat, basketball hoop and loopie toy from home

Reinforcers- h.s. pellets, voice (our excitement when he made a basket), the basketball was becoming a reinforcing behavior, hugs became VERY reinforcing

Emotion- Around cones good but not completely at ease, some worry. Around the pen, he would scoot in the trouble spot which was when he was between the pen and the open wall but that improved greatly during the session.  During hugs he was very engaged.  During basketball he was interested and in SEEKING mode.  

Distraction- that trouble spot when he was "squeezed" between the round pen and the wall.  [footnote- this was not a physically tight space.  There must have been 15 feet between wall and pen.  But as they (Alex worked him in this bit) rounded the corner and began to turn their backs on the open wall, my sense was that he didn't like having his back to it and so he felt trapped or "squeezed" by the pen and being on the rope.  I would have taken the rope off, following my tendency to let him choose whether or not to stay.  Why Alex did not do this was my AHA.  I told Alex (during our discussion afterward) that I felt he did quite well in squeeze situations.  At home, his barn/paddock setup is such that sometimes while I'm doing chores there is a panel that divides his stall door.  I can scoot around the panel by stepping into his stall and back out the other side of the panel.  He's smart enough to know when that space is too small for him...and also smart enough to know when it's just wide enough for him to barely squeeze his hips through.  He doesn't hurry through, but verrry carefully steps through clearing the space by a millimeter on each side.  So, she said, he doesn't feel threatened by a physical squeeze...this is an emotional squeeze.  (The first little light goes on in my brain.)

This was such an enlightening session I'm having trouble figuring out how to write about it.  

To try to give you a mental picture:  starting at the bottom of the 8, they headed clockwise around the cone circle.  When they reached the mat at the connection of the top and bottom, Percy got clicked for stepping onto it and then Alex proceeded with her hugging magic while he stood on it.  To read more about the hugging, see my post from the clinic with Alex in August.    Percy retained his love for being hugged after we got home from that clinic.  My challenge was to try to get him to relax into my hugs, rather than just dropping his head or turning toward me.  The goal was to get him to just relax and allow me to place his head somewhere, rather than cueing him with a touch and having him PUT his head somewhere.  He loved his hugs and he was in hug heaven with Alex.  The mat for this exercise, as a result, was incredibly reinforcing and relaxing.  After many hugs, they headed off counter clockwise up the top half of the 8, putting them in that squeeze spot.  And tada!  Clever me, I have a video clip:

As you can see, he got quite nervous in that spot.  When he hurried past the ideal spot next to Alex, she would turn him and head back through it again.  In our discussion afterward, she asked what I saw.  I thought she was simply walking him through there and if he scooted, then he had to go back.   "Oh, there was much much more than that", she said.  So I think rather than going on to explain, I'll allow readers to watch the video and see if others can catch what I missed.  You have an advantage because I didn't know there was more to it but you do.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Learning Curve 4

Percy finally settling in enough to eat some hay

One of the fun things about this week with Alex was playing with record keeping.  Yes, fun and record keeping in the same sentence.  Something I have learned over the years is that good trainers keep good records...and they try to encourage the rest of us to do the same.  I know it helps me when I make a plan first and then record it afterward.  When I took Susan Garrett's  online 5 minute Recall course (for dogs), she really impressed upon participants how helpful record keeping would be and gave us a minimal format to follow.  Since then, I have tweaked it to fit me and even came up with a simple acronym to help me remember what to record.  The acronym was GLTRED, which I mentally said as "glittered".  The letters stood for Goal, Location, Time, Reinforcers, Equipment and Distractions.  

In order to have a Goal, I had to have a plan- critical for a successful training session.  Location is very important to think about- where will my horse be most comfortable?  Do I want to push the envelope and ask him to work somewhere more challenging?  If so, then I have to back off on my criteria.  
Time- this included both time of day and the length of the training session.  Was I more successful working after he'd had some turnout time?  Or before the heat and bugs got bad (depending on time of year!)?  How long did I expect him to focus?  Did he tire, get bored or settle in with more time?  
Reinforcers I use are almost always hay stretcher pellets (with dogs it seems more varied food reinforcers are used) for food treats, but breaks in the session, secondary reinforcers such as allowing him to do fun behaviors and things he naturally found reinforcing (such as movement) are also valuable and worth noting and planning for.  
E for equipment...this is important for planning.  Depending on the facility, it can be really frustrating to start a training session and then remember you left something you needed back at the barn.  Will I need cones?  A long line?  A target stick?  
Distractions- this I broke down into Planned distractions and Reality distractions.  I might have planned to work in the paddock with minimal distractions planned but then one of the other horses decided to start leaping about.  Or someone drove in the driveway and all the dogs started barking.  Or the tractor went by with some other piece of equipment etc.  

There were a few more things I recorded that didn't fit in the acronym.  Emotion- this was a big one which I broke down into many subcategories.  

  • Self at beginning- what mood did I bring to the session?  Was I tired at the end of the day?  Discouraged from working with another animal or client?  In a rush to do something before I had to leave?  All it took was one word to note my own emotion but it really made me think about how my own emotions affected a training session.
  • Horse at arrival- had he been anxious to come in out of flies?  Sleeping in the sun?  You never really start with a blank slate.
  • Transition- this is something I learned from Susan and it's been SO helpful.  What did I do to get the horse I found when I arrived at the barn, to the beginning of the training session.  If he's worried about something maybe I need to do a lot of clicking for head down before I even put his halter on.  If he's distracted maybe I need to ask him for some easy behaviors with a high rate of reinforcement to get his attention.  You can't wait until you're in the arena or work area to begin your training and if I thought about it, I could help set the horse up for success by transitioning him from free time to training session with intention
  • Beginning- how was he at the beginning of the session?  Did my transition work as I intended or not?
  • My response- how did I deal with whatever emotion the horse offered?  
  • Conclusion- how did he end?  Was he more relaxed at the end of the session than at the beginning?  Tired?  Still enthused?
  • Transition- transitions are equally important for going back to free time.  No gratuitous endings.  How can I leave the horse so he's not feeling abandoned?
I believe the next bit comes from Bob Bailey: was this a sufficient challenge?  Your training won't get you very far if you don't regularly challenge yourself and/or your horse.  No getting stuck in ruts.  
What did I learn?  hopefully something!
Carry over- here I actually turn the page of my journal and write 3 things on the back of the page to carry over to the next session- so it's staring me in the face when I start my next session's plan.  What should I work on tomorrow?  Do I need to back up a step or more?  Do I need to have more distractions or fewer?  Do I need a bigger challenge?

When I shared this model with Alex, she took right hold like a dog with a bone.  First she added the remaining letters to my "glittered": 
I is for Interest- ahhh yes.  Do I have his attention or only half of his attention?  
The other T was for Tempo- (the uncanny thing was that when we were talking about this with Ann that night, she came up with the same words Alex had...they think a lot alike!).  Tempo included the rate of reinforcement and the flow from one behavior to the next.  All part of Loopy Training.  Then I could put in the second E for emotion.  

By the end of the week, Alex had come up with an acronym of her own.  But that's her story.  

She did want to assign a numerical score for the interest.  I must have looked concerned because she said "like 1 through 5 or something".  She defined it as-
1- no interest
2- occasional check-in
3- not eager but participating, slow responses
4- interested but distractable
5- locked on- nothing else mattered

For the rest of the week, she gave me numbers like 3.6 and 4.2 and 3.75. I was now record keeping with the precision of an Eastern European Gymnastics judge.  Words work better for me and I have slipped back into them, rather than the numerical scoring.  Don't tell Alex.  

So the record keeping for session 2 looked like:

G- test connection and increase exposure to the far end using the squashed road kill technique (oh, you hadn't heard of this advanced training technique either?)
L- furthest half of the arena
I- 3.5
T- noon 
T- 2.5 
E- mats and cones
R- h.s pellets primarily, peppermints at each new mat
E- sleepy, stressed
D- 3.5 

What I learned- he was not tethered to me but keeping in proximity.  

The squashed road kill exercise was the flattened circles you get when you start in the area comfortable to the horse and then gradually move toward the scary end of the arena.  Alex laid out a line of mats leading toward the far wall.  We had decided to leave both horses at liberty but each would click only one horse and see if they'd learn to stay with that particular person, whereas in the morning they had wandered back and forth between us.  

I did a figure 8 at each mat.  When we got to a particular mat the first time, I clicked and gave a peppermint.  Then I'd circle off to the right- toward the open side of the arena and come back to the mat for a few clicks.  Then I'd switch sides and circle off to the left and come back to the mat.  From there we'd go straight to the next mat, closer to the scary end and he'd get a peppermint for this new milestone.  Alex was ahead of us with Kizzy forging the way as only a brave little Welsh pony mare can do.  While Percy did stay with me for the most part (a 3.5 from the Clicker Center judge), he was only very loosely attached mentally and emotionally.  He kept an eye on the open wall and his head would come up when his back was to the scary corner.  

Day 1 of training and we'd already had two training sessions!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Learning Curve 3

More of the view from the arena 
On the second day, the formal training sessions began.  After chores and breakfast, Alex opened her toy cupboard and began pulling out playthings.  She has quite a collection of lumber from the building process so she has mats of ALL sizes and shapes.  She noticed Percy had a little bit of "far-enditis" and so the plan for the first session was to observe the level of comfort in the arena- the full space. 

Both Kizzy and Percy were at liberty.  He was no longer harassing her and definitely gained confidence with her presence and participation.  With the round pen set up in the first third of the arena, we scattered the toys in the further part.  I had also brought some of Percy's own toys from home- his loopie toy that he loves to fetch, some "rail razers", that lifts a ground rail slightly off the ground, and a rail, and flat soccer cones that we play color games with.  Alex and I wandered about following her instructions to click for interaction with anything.  Kizzy was in seventh heaven.  All this attention and fun!  Percy liked to play, but would occasionally go and check over the wall to be sure the enemy hadn't advanced and then he'd return to play some more.  Whereas the previous night he had been anxious, HYPER vigilant and just had to keep moving, this morning he was watchful and not really connected to me, but nonetheless engaged in the play when he was around.  

He was concerned about the far end, but willing to go there to play as long as he could leave when he wanted.  This was where my mindset was at the beginning.  Percy does not like confinement.  From his first days as a foal, he fought any restraint.  Most foals do, of course, but there are ranges of both what is considered restraint and how much fight an individual puts in.  I may have told this story here before, but Percy was the fourth foal born here in four years.  The first actually belonged to my niece who was visiting, then came Ande, then Rumer and then Percy.  While all three of mine started with CT, each year I learned more and each year was able to "let go" of more traditional training and use more CT.  When it came to first farrier visits, we just held on to Ande and Rumer.  I enlisted the assistance of my husband who is quite practiced at wrastling young calves (and bigger ones) and between he, myself, and my wonderfully patient farrier, they quickly settled down and stood for the hoof trimming.  I had concerns about Percy but we started out the same way.  In no time at all, both my husband and Percy were on the floor but my husband was the one bleeding.  Hm.  I stopped it all right there and we went to CT, no restraint and that was my rule for Percy from then on.  

The reason I tell that is because from then on, I made almost everything free choice for him.  He was smart, athletic and sensitive.  Fighting him was not an option for me and he could and did learn all his life's lessons by making what I wanted very reinforcing for him.  From leading to trailer loading, he wasn't pushed at all.  He was reinforced every step of the way when he made progress and was allowed to leave when he felt he needed to.  I had a hiccup when it came to veterinary visits which included stitches in his lip as a weanling and of course castration but with the assistance of sedatives, we got through those without a fight as well...though we did seem to have some fallout from that in that he hates my vet now and that is a winter project to come.  

When I was at the clinic with Alex this August, she was uncomfortable letting me leave the paddock with Percy because she saw I did not have a strong tai chi wall to protect me if he panicked.  I, on the other hand, did not want to use a tai chi wall, though it took some mental work after getting home to figure out why.  Percy's mother can be quite a wild child but in all the years my daughter had her, she had never so much as touched her during an explosion.  She was very aware of where her body was and very careful about not making contact with a person, and rarely even hit the end of a leadrope.  So I was hoping that even if Percy remained a reactive individual to the end of his days, I could feel safe in the hopes he'd be like his mum.  And I knew that if I gave him a long line, he could react and get away without going over the top of me.  By using a Tai Chi wall, I would be restraining him and I feared that would cause a fight because he'd feel trapped in that closet with the spiders. 

So, to get back to Alex's indoor, Percy would occasionally find himself further into the far end than he liked, and I'd see him lift his head and walk quickly back to safer territory.  The plan for the next session would be to increase his exposure to the far end and further test his connection to me. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Learning Curve 2

In my hurry to finish my post yesterday before I left for the dentist, I left out a couple things about the first day.  One was the joy of getting to meet Panda and Ann (above).  For anyone who doesn't know, Panda is a miniature horse trained by Alex to be a guide horse for Ann who is blind.  Ann and Alex have been friends for a long time and are partners in the Clicker Center.  Another partner is Mary who lives at the farm and has her own barn for her horses.  This threesome has indeed built a great facility.  

But back to Panda- of course I've heard lots about her, seen photos and watched videos but it was great fun to meet her in person (that would be my person, her horse).  She and Ann have a great relationship and it's amazing to see them go about together making it look smooth and effortless.  But Panda knows this is "her" barn too so although she spends days and nights with Ann, she comes to the barn in the evenings and has her own stall (full size!) to hang out in while Ann does chores, visits, and works with the other horses (Ann and Alex have two Iceys...not sure who officially owns whom but it doesn't really matter).   

Panda invented her own game, called "Panda Catch" in which she chooses a person from a circle of people and lines herself up with them for which she earns a click and a treat and then runs off to pick her next person.  As my horses were living in the arena, the only place we had to play was in the aisle so she simply went back and forth between Ann and I.  

You can read more about Panda here: http://www.theclickercenter.com/Clicker-Store-Panda-Book.html

The other thing I neglected to include was Alex's stressing the importance of the relationship I was building with Percy by simply staying with him that night.  Having had horses for a lifetime, I am very familiar with the phrase "deal with it".  Horses get put in new environments, living situations, together with unfamiliar horses or training expectations and they get told to "deal with it".  They may be observed long enough to make sure they don't hurt themselves or colic, but often, sooner rather than later, they just get left in the new situation to worry alone.  This is really a form of flooding- something unpleasant until they stop reacting.  Imagine if you are afraid of spiders and are put in a room or closet full of spiders with no way of escape.  You will probably stop reacting to them but it will be a long miserable process and may have unintended fallout...like mistrust of the person who locked you in that closet! 

This issue is the beginning of my learning curve of the week.  More to come.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Learning Curve 1

It's been a month since my visit to Alexandra Kurland's brand new Clicker Center.  I've done a lot of processing, experimenting and practicing since then but not much writing.  I hope to begin to amend that now.  

At the clinic with Alex this past August, she suggested I bring Percy down for a visit.  I was thrilled at this possibility- to see the new facility, to work further with Alex and to get Percy out to more new places where I felt safe with other clicker trainers (in this case the best).  The only glitch was that Alex's busy clinic schedule kept her on the road until November and we usually park our truck and trailer for the winter by October 31 so we keep them out of the salty roads.  And I don't like pulling horses in dicey road conditions which are a very good possibility in November.  As luck would have it, one of her clinics at the end of October had to cancel and she said I could come the last week (weekdays being better for me than weekends).  I scrambled to get ready and how lucky I was- Hurricane Sandy blew in the following week right after we got back home!  I would not have been able to go otherwise.  

Alex had said it was fine to bring Kizzy along to keep Percy company in the trailer and in the new surroundings.  This was a blessing because Kizzy is such a good little traveling companion- loads well, travels well, doesn't take up much room or feed and is usually good at keeping Percy in line even though she's half his size.  I had blanketed him through the fall which I don't usually do but I wanted to try to minimize his coat since I knew he'd get hot in the trailer.  He did get sweaty right off but luckily it was a sunny and mild day so I didn't have to worry about him getting a chill in the breeze.  They traveled well and even though I missed one turn which added 30 minutes to the trip, I arrived before dark.  

Alex was waiting for us and closed the gates on the drive behind as I drove in so that we were completely enclosed by fence- very reassuring to know that if a horse gets away, he can't get to a road or disappear into the distance!  I parked right next to the arena door so we unloaded and slipped them right into the arena:

First off, it's a beautiful facility.  I had heard Alex explain how the arena was open on one side with a lovely view but it's one of those things you have to see to believe.  Autumn is my favorite time of year so that made it even more impressive for me- to look out over the brilliant countryside and watch the geese starting to head south.  Percy was also fascinated by the view, but very concerned about what kind of cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers or lions and tigers and bears might approach from that direction.  He stayed very close to his Kizzy.  We hung hay nets and set out water buckets.  The arena was to be their "stall" for our stay.  The footing is deep shavings on top of stay mat (stone dust, jock sand....different locales have different names for it).  Alex knew exactly how many bags of shavings it had taken...I think it was 108 but I'm not sure!  It was definitely the penthouse suite of pony accommodations.  

That first evening it was a full time job to try to get Percy to settle down.  His hyper vigilance did not allow him to relax. I was amazed to see him herding Kizzy around and pushing her this way and that since she doesn't usually tolerate it...but he used his teeth to insist.  Alex suggested we set up a round pen for her so that she could get a break.  On her recommendation, we set it up in the middle of the arena- nowhere for anyone to get trapped and he could be on any side of her he wanted.  It was large enough that he couldn't reach her if she was in the middle but she wasn't far away nor out of sight.  

Once she was settled in, Percy set up sentry duty at the wall.  He seemed to be settling in so Alex and I had some dinner in the tack room with Ann (of Ann and Panda fame) and her husband.  I heard some noise once or twice and went out to check and reassure him.  After dinner, we settled back in to watch the last presidential debate in her enormous but as yet unfurnished office.   In the photo to the left, you can see the barn end of the arena.  In the corner on the ground floor is the tack room (behind the wall).  To the right is the sliding door which leads to a short aisle to the barn.  Right in the center is the landing of the stairs going up...more on that later!  Under the landing is a wonderful little storage area for cones and mats and other toys!  Behind the wall further to the right is the wash stall and then the bathroom and then the feed room.  You can see the wonderful balcony area which over looks the arena all the way across- plenty big enough for observation, small Tai Chi practice or meals in warmer weather.  Alex's office is upstairs on the left- you can see the sliding glass door if you look closely.  This is where I slept the second two nights and where we watched the debate in folding chairs.  Her office floor is parquet-like....an Alex original.  She took leftover pieces of lumber and patchworked it all together!  The right side upstairs is hayloft.  

Two-thirds of the way through the debate, we heard thundering hooves so I went back down to try to reassure him again.  All I can guess is that the encroaching dark made him more uneasy because he couldn't see into the distance as well.  As a result he increased his speed of sentry duty up and down along the open side.  He hadn't eaten much hay (another reason to separate him from Kizzy as she would eat hay until she popped and I wanted to keep hay in front of him) and would repeatedly break a sweat from anxiety.  By this time he was uninterested in me and I was a bit lost as to how to get his mind back. Finally I began playing targeting games with Kizzy and that brought him over.  As long as I kept targeting and playing with he and Kizzy, he slowly relaxed a little.  This was the theme until 2 AM!  Once he was relaxed, I could leave for a bit but he would slowly creep back up to full on anxious so I'd return and play some more until he calmed again.  Initially I tolerated walking and trotting back and forth but would step in if he began cantering.  As the evening wore on, he stopped escalating that far and I would step in when he began trotting.  Click for targeting, click for head lowering, click for any easy little thing.  

You can see from the photo above that there are shavings bags lined up along the wall and that's where I'd sit and watch.  As the hours wore on, I sagged into lying there but got cold so I hauled some wool coolers out of the trailer to wrap up in.  Once I got tired enough to keel over on the shavings bags, I wasn't sure I wanted to be lying IN the arena with him so I got my air mattress from the trailer and set it up on the landing, along with sleeping bag and all the blankets I could find.  It was cold! This was now my view of P and the arena although I took this the next day in the daylight.  

From here, I was able to lie under all my warm covers and if P got too active, I could by now call him over and do several fist targets right through these bars without even sitting up.  He would then stay close for a while, wander off and come back when I called him.  Each time he stayed calm longer and longer.  Then I began asking for head lowering from there and he would stay with his head down right next to me.  At one point, I started scritching his cheek.  After a minute or so he leaned forward so that I was scratching behind his ears, then leaned forward a little more so I was scritching his neck.  Then he took a tiny step forward so I was scritching a little further back.  He proceeded ever so slowly so that he got a head to tail scratching and I never moved- my hand stayed right there between the same two bars and I drifted off to sleep.  

I'm off to the dentist- more tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chapter 2 in which I float balloons at 3: am and Alex hugs my horse

Saturday night I went to sleep easily but woke up at 3: am with thoughts buzzing in my head.  I was thinking about the way I approached the situation of Percy being frightened of the chicken.  I realized I had made a mistake to try to approach with him because, unlike other situations in which I approached scary things with him, I had no control over the chicken.  While I did not really think that the chicken would harm him, it could have naively approached us (in search of a tasty morsel in the grass) and that might have caused Percy to think I wasn't doing a very good job of keeping him safe.  I really need him to trust me and I can't give him any reason to think he'd be better off leaving me behind and saving himself.

I wanted to have some clear facts with which to proceed and so I sorted through my thoughts and came up with the following.  I called them Percy's balloons because I was afraid that after staying awake thinking about this for an hour and a half, I'd forget it all as soon as I fell asleep again, the thoughts floating off like Winnie-the-Pooh to the honey tree.  I used my phone in the dark, so as not to wake my roommate Sarah, and jotted down these thoughts:

  1. Knowing Percy's mother, she does not hit the end of a rope even when explosive.  Neither does she run into you.  Percy seems to be as body aware as she is but I am not yet sure he is as careful as she is.  
  2. If allowed rope freedom, Percy has never gotten away or even tried to pull away from me.  He is polite even when excited.  
  3. If you try to restrain him,  he will fight.  He's been that way since he was a foal.  A combination of my respect for his athletic abilities and respect for his nature has prevented me from trying to force him to accept restraint.  Through clicker training, I have been able to train him to accept various kinds of restraint, from a halter to hoof trimming to a firm grip on his head to examine his teeth.  
  4. Clicker work calms him, as it had done the previous day.  Leaving him alone to settle down does not.  When my husband had to repair the sheep barn roof last winter and was climbing up and down a ladder and walking around on the roof, Percy watched in horror.  I left him, assuming he'd get over it, but when I returned hours later, he was still staring, giraffe like.  Another time I had tied a tarp to the round pen on a windy day and his initial reaction was the same but we approached it together, one step at a time, only advancing when his head was below his withers and for a click and treat of each step.  The closer we got, the calmer he became.   He'd done lots with tarps previously but never when they were flapping and snapping in the wind.  But all that work with the tarp was at liberty- I was not forcing him to approach, I was reinforcing when he did and he was free to leave at any time. 
I had hoped that work like this would make him more trusting, exposing him to more things in life and he'd continue to stay with me in scary situations.  But then there was the ostrich potential.  So I had questions- should I do more tai chi wall work with him so it became a comforting thing rather than a forced control?  Should I have "put him to work" to distract him from the chicken rather than facing it? 
When Alex arrived the next morning, she found me cleaning Percy's stall.  Now that she has her own barn and home base, she seemed to be like the rest of us, enjoying a morning mucking.  She picked up a fork and cleaned Kizzy's stall while I shared Percy's balloons.  At the end, she was even more convinced he needed hugging.  

During the morning discussion, she explained an exercise she had developed at another clinic earlier in the season.  This was for a mare who did not want her girth area approached  (and she was quite adamant about keeping people away).  She adapted the exercise with Percy thusly: we set up two lawn chairs as large cones.  Alex stood on one side and I on the other side.  We were probably about 20 feet apart- each 10 feet from the invisible line drawn between the chairs (with the mare, who was an event horse, the chairs had been jump standards and they built up a jump for her to go over each way).  We each had a target stick.  I think we began by having me "send" Percy to Alex who was holding out her target stick.  He needed to investigate the chairs a bit first (not minding when he knocked one over) but then went and touched her target for a c/t.  Alex then took firm hold of his halter, wrapped her left arm over his nose where the noseband of his halter went and gave him a squeeze.  The moment he relaxed a tiny bit, she clicked and released.  She repeated this process several times, turning him in a small half circle after a few so that he was headed back toward me and hugged him some more.  Then using her left hand on his halter and right at his shoulder, she gently sent him back to me so I could do the same.  

Over that session and another one the next day, we made progress from Percy's nose, to his head, his poll, his neck, his withers and finally his girth area.  I feel conflicted writing this because I don't want it to sound as though we were physically restraining him while he fought to get away.  There were times he resisted but we certainly couldn't hug a 1200 pound horse to us when he didn't want it.   
Alex did state that we should take hold of his halter and not allow him to leave.  This was about him learning that pressure was ok and it was also not optional.   In his past, I had gone just to the point of contact with him, waited for a release from him and then released myself.  This was about going to the point of contact and pulling him to us, c/ting when he relaxed to the contact.  It wasn't a surrender, it was a relaxing.  I could feel it when he relaxed into my arms and I could see the expression in his eyes soften when he relaxed to Alex's hugs.  

Now, Alex being Alex, there were many other things going on at the same time below the surface.  These weren't just random hugs.  These were progressive flexions.  She was precise in how we held his head and neck, where our arms, and then hips, were placed so that we supported correct body mechanics.  He was not to wrap down and around but maintain a more correct alignment.  She felt a kink in his neck when she got halfway down.  I did not feel it but did feel him make a big step toward relaxation after she sent him back to me the next time.  Once we got to his chest and wither, she showed me how she used her hip at his shoulder in a lifting position, rather than pulling down on his withers- it reminded me of the way a chiropractor uses their body to manipulate a patient.  I need to review my anatomy.  

Caroline asked if a chiropractor or massage therapist would be helpful in that kink.  Alex was firm in saying that professionals can be very helpful but also that we can do a lot for our horses ourselves with the exercises we use.  This rang true for me because a daily morning yoga ritual keeps me putting one foot in front of the other each day without pain and vertigo.  We know our horses bodies- daily careful grooming ingrains the feel of their legs in our brains so that we sense the slightest heat or swelling- why not carry that over to the rest of the body?  Grooming him at home yesterday, I changed the feel of my currying with the grooming mitt so that I was feeling muscles and looking for potential tight spots, rather than just massaging the skin.  

I seem to have a very snuggly horse now.  I have previously worked on getting him to relax and lower his head when I comb his forelock- yesterday he voluntarily buried his head in my chest and with a wing and prayer, I wrapped his head in my arms, squished his ears and hugged tight- he didn't move a muscle. When I was picking out his run-in, he came over and instead of begging to play games (backing away, pricking his ears, trying to steal the pitchfork), he just wrapped his neck around me in a hug.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chapter One, in which Kizzy goes to Lilliput and Percy becomes undone by a chicken

This past weekend was the long-awaited yearly clinic with Alexandra Kurland.  I must start off by saying that the host, Caroline Albert, gets the Energizer Bunny award of the year from me.  With two school-aged children, four dogs in various stages of training, 8 horses, and a startup bustling dog training and daycare business, somehow she invited us into her home and barn and even cooked fabulous meals for us for three and a half days.  Her businesses are Click for Confidence (equine) and The Grateful Dog (canine).  A year and a half ago, she and her family (kids plus husband Wayne who is a farrier extraordinare) rescued a weanling colt.  The photos were heartbreaking: emaciated, barely strength to stand, covered in rain rot which came off in chunks, structurally unsound, one could only wonder what kind of future this poor thing could have.  Below, a photo of him this past weekend.

Smitten- now the picture of health and fitness
Amazing, isn't it?

When we arrived at the farm on Friday late afternoon, we were a truck and trailerful:  Percy, Kizzy-as-companion-to Percy, Eloise the Jack Russell, Sarah Memmi who traveled down with us for wonderful conversation and support, and myself.  I unloaded Percy who couldn't figure out which way to look first and Sarah unloaded Kizzy who saw there was grass so all was well in her world.  Percy has an amazing ability to turn into a giraffe when he needs to see all the world at once and so with head held high, we proceeded toward the paddock which Caroline had waiting for us.  As we approached, a small head and body appeared around the corner of the barn.  One of the farm minis had snuck between some rails and ended up in assigned paddock.  Had Percy been able to raise his head even higher at this astonishing sight, he would have.  Caroline's daughter grabbed a lead rope, lassoed the escapee and returned him to his own paddock.  We opened the gate and entered with Percy and Kizzy.  The mini returned.  With reinforcements.  And attitude.  We now had two minis in the paddock with us and they seemed rather incensed by the visitors so they skirted Caroline's daughter who was trying to catch them again and presented themselves front and center.  At 12 hands (which may be generous) Kizzy has never towered over anything before.  A bit concerned at what Percy was going to do about this situation, I nonetheless had to giggle at the Lilliputians.  Sarah handed over Kizzy's lead rope and the minis were once again captured and led off to their stalls.  Relieved that Percy hadn't ended up splayed out and staked to the ground by a miniature race, we proceeded to settle everyone in.  

Saturday was Day 1 of the clinic, a day which Alex sets aside for data collection.  She observes horses and handlers and begins to lay her plans for the work to come.  Our assignment is to work our horses as we would at home and see if the behaviors are all in order.  We could either proceed or back up as warranted.  The previous evening I had said that my goal, if Percy was Percy, would be to work on some emotional control.  All in all I had been pleased with how he had handled the Advance of the Minis and was drooling over the lovely flat sand arena, unlike anything we had at home.  What fun it would be to work in there.  Alex later quoted John Lyons saying that we can have all the training in the world, but horses being horses, things happen and what are you going to do when an ostrich walks up the drive?  Well, in our case, the ostrich was a chicken.  A rather attractive laying hen had ventured from her pen to graze in the grass next to the paddock which Percy and Kizzy were in.  Percy was alarmed.  

He stared, he blew, he retreated and advanced.  He clung to Kizzy.  He did his giraffe imitation.  The chicken was unconcerned.  She did her little chicken walk around in the grass, searching for bugs seemingly without any knowledge of the large horse she was intimidating.  Percy was a farm boy but our chickens were in the other barn and he'd never seen them.  Alex watched from the barn door as I put his halter on.  He obligingly lowered his head into his halter but shot it back up when I opened the gate and went onto the grass where the chicken was.  She had puttered over to the other side of the lawn.  I told Alex that if I was at home, the first thing I would do would be to address the chicken.  Not in a formal commencement speech sort of way, but in a more casual introduction of "Percy this is a little red hen.  Little Red Hen this is Percy".  Alex was concerned for my safety and sent us back into the paddock.  She didn't like me being on the side of Percy that would be leapt upon if he leapt.  She gave us a mat and a circle of cones in the paddock...a slightly stony, slightly side hill- just like home.   And so we went to work.  Percy settled with the familiar exercises.  He wasn't quite focused enough to show off left and right error-free but he could do his foundation exercises.  He gets fussy about just how to perfect his feet on a mat and was true-to-form there.  But he targeted, head lowered, backed (even on voice), stood for Grownups and his ears were mannerly.  His "stretch" command was only half quality (at home his nose is right at the ground as he walks).  

Alex observed and made helpful suggestions.  She commented something about spending the weekend hugging him...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Is Positive Reinforcement Bribery?

No.  There are distinct differences between the two.  Whether you are clicker training an animal or TAG teaching a person (of any age), you are using a scientifically researched and proven method of teaching or training which involves the pupil learning something new.  This might be a completely new behavior or a new way of performing a previously known behavior.  Good teaching or training also involves a plan.  A key element in Clicker Training and TAGteach is breaking the behavior down into manageable steps (which will be different for each learner) and reinforcing each step along the way.  
The downfall of bribery is that each bribe only gets you one behavior.  There has been no learning involved, therefore, no long term change will occur.  The bribe is offered before the behavior: “do this and I’ll give you this”.  Without the bribe, the behavior doesn’t happen.  This frequently leads to the pupil demanding the bribe before repeating the behavior.  They think, “well, last time I got a cookie for getting into my car seat.  I want to be sure I get one this time too!”.  This is a one-time deal.  
With animals, we don’t have the ability to tell the animal, “if you get on the trailer, I’ll give you a carrot”.  So those using bribery stand on the trailer with a bucket of grain, shaking the bucket and trying to lure the animal in.  They might give a bite now and then, but there is rarely a plan for how this training is taking place.   Without an understanding of the other things affecting the horse’s behavior, those bucket-shakers don’t change the long term behavior of the horse.  They may get the horse on the trailer, but the next time they need to load, they will be back there shaking that bucket. 
With clicker training, no treat is offered ahead of time.  The animal does not know what will earn a click, or if it will earn a click.  Therefore, he must think.  He must try different things to see what works.  The animal becomes actively engaged with using his brain to figure out this puzzle.  Engaging him in this way changes the training picture entirely.  In addition, we don’t click and treat the same behavior, differentiating Clicker Training from luring and bribing.  The animal must keep working, keep thinking, keep trying in order to continue getting clicked.  Standing still on the trailer ramp doesn’t work.  Backing off and then putting the front feet on again over and over doesn’t work.  Clicker trainers use measurable criteria to determine when progress is being made and they mark that with a click.  Once it is trained, as long as nothing else changes that training (such as a bad experience), you have a well-trained loader.
With people, we have the advantage of language to be able to communicate exactly what will earn a tag.  We aren’t bribing a person for a finished behavior.  One doesn’t tag for “good position” or “a clean room”.  One breaks the position down into manageable steps.  The tags occur when that step is achieved- our bodies need to experiment to find that right spot and then TAG!  The brain processes that and tries it again- TAG!  Once we have been tagged several times, we know the feel of the correct position.  We can repeat it.  At that point the teacher goes on (using the training plan) to another piece of the position.  Through this gradual process and understanding that one piece may slip when a new one is introduced, we can help a student achieve that final position we are looking for.  Through this process, we have also helped the student to feel good about the position.  Therefore, no bribery is necessary to maintain it.  
In case you are wondering, you can devise a plan to TAGteach for a clean room :)  

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Today, I wanted to try to transition to my giving the "walk on" cue from his back- something I hadn't been able to get him to understand when I worked alone.  He would move, but felt this awkward weight on his back (me) and found it easier to go backward or sideways.  Because he is so sensitive, there wasn't anyone I felt comfortable asking to lead me.  But now I had an accomplice.
Before we could do that, I needed to teach Anna my routine.  She had participated yesterday, but as the rider, not the handler.  I sent her off around the cone circle with him, but there was something (can't remember what now) I wanted to demonstrate to her so I approached them.  Percy pinned his ears when I got close.  Aha- I was confusing him again.  I am his person, and here I was approaching but Anna was a perfectly good vending machine so now what was he to do?  We decided to take turns being his handler and Anna came up with a wonderful "transition" exercise.  When we switched handlers, the new handler would offer a fist target a couple times as the other person left, and then the new handler took over.  That person would do a circle or two and then we'd swap again.  He could look forward to the new person approaching because that person would offer a fist target he could interact with, and then he'd get to work with them.
It worked quite wonderfully.  And I was able to get on, swing my legs a bit, feel my wonderful boy and take some steps.  Because we had done so much before getting me on, we didn't do too much after that.  But she'll be here tomorrow too!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Cues as Reinforcers

As I head into the last month of my KPA course, I find myself extremely grateful for a better understanding of Cues as Reinforcers.  Attending Clicker Expo for the first time in the midst of my KPA course was a wonderful immersion in all thing clickerly.  I saw and heard many examples of cues as reinforcers there as well.  When I returned home, I decided to put this into action and had an "aha" moment in my first attempt.

It was early Spring and I was longeing Ande over a little jump.  We're still working on combining all the preferred criteria over fences: a nice forward approach but not rushing, good form over the jump, and a polite, clean landing.  The landing was giving me the most trouble.  If the jump was nice and I clicked at any point over it, he landed with the brakes on to receive his treat.  If I clicked when he landed, he screeched to a halt.  If I did not click until several strides after he landed (trying to reinforce a polite landing), he would either hesitate as if wondering why I did not click or the quality of the jump would deteriorate.  

I can't remember now if I went out with the intention of using a cue as reinforcer or if it came to me in the moment.  Ande has been reinforced oodles for trotting on voice cue- for years and whether in an up transition or a down transition.  Therefore, "trrrottt" fit the description for a cue that could be used as a reinforcer: it had been taught and maintained with +R, had a solid reinforcement history and was a fluent behavior.  

So this time when Ande approached the jump in a forward active trot, rocked back and was clean with his knees, instead of clicking, I said "trrrottt" as he went over.  It was magic.  He landed with his ears up and trotted cleanly off with no hesitation, no question, no frustration, no structure-jarring halts.  I let him trot 5-6 steps and then clicked.  Voila.  It was so easy it was ridiculous.  All this mystery of how to fade clicks and treats disappeared.  Not only was I the cookie, behaviors themselves had become the cookies.  

This opened up all kinds of opportunities for me to utilize cues as reinforcers more often.  Over the years I have built up quite a little treasure trove of individual behaviors.  Now I can link them together with an understanding of how cues work and how chains work.  Certainly all the foundation lessons are useful as reinforcing cues.  Instead of viewing all my requests as more demands on the horses, I now see them as welcome cues.  They know this stuff- they enjoy it (obvious by their willingness to offer them to me even without asking sometimes).  It isn't a burden to them to comply- it's an opportunity to interact and earn more reinforcement.  By mixing them up, I gain more attention and interest from the horses.   I can balance them in ways that enrich each session. 

Standing still for grooming is now so reinforcing that I was able to finally get Percy to hold a quiet mouth with a bit in it.  When I focused on the bit, so did he (chew, chew, chew, tongue rolling, head twisting).  When we focused on the grooming, the bit became a part of the pleasant process.  I spent years working with him on allowing me to touch and groom different parts of his body so that he really enjoys it rather than tolerates it.  Just this week I realized how much better he is about being groomed than his mother is (sorry Zoe).  She loves parts of it but hates other parts of it.  There are days she enjoys it, days she tolerates it and days you wish you'd stayed in the house.  Percy happily stands in the barn aisle for grooming.  He is not tied, he has access to both his paddock and a hay pile but instead he stands.  He has worn his bridle and practiced his new yawning behavior while I go over every inch of him with all the different brushes.  When I stop, he reaches into his grooming box and hands me another brush (he likes the rubber ones).  Actually, he just keeps handing me brushes whether I stop or not.  Handing me things is a fun behavior- I can use that to reinforce other things.  

I have now taught him to back on voice cue.  I've tested it in several situations but next want to expand my experimentation to see if he'll do it when I'm somewhere other than in front of him (can I stand behind him and get him to back to me?).  Since retrieving is such fun, I can use that as a reinforcer.  I'll just hold his little toy, ask him to back and then toss it for him, clicking and treating when he hands it to me.  

I'll need to be sure that all these behaviors stay reinforcing- with a background in traditional training, it's easy to get caught up in the riding and forget that.  If my flexions are reinforcing, then I can use them to reinforce a nice transition.  If transitions are reinforcing, I can use them to reinforce flexions.  Either way, I get a happy balanced horse.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Duration Lab with Kay Laurence Part One- stillness

This lab was subtitled Duration in Moving and Static Behaviors, yet Kay broke it down even further (part of a clicker trainer's M.O. obviously). I am actually working on this behavior as I type this- with Eloise the dog, not a horse, but the correlations are obvious.

Kay broke stillness behaviors down into "calm stillness" and "contained anticipatory" stillness. The first is when you want your animal to chill out and relax, such as Eloise lying on her mat next to me as I type right now. The other is when you want the animal to wait for the next active cue- a start line in agility or perhaps the start box for XC?? In all instances you may want the animal still, but the difference is the accompanying emotion- sleepy? or taut like a rubber band pulled tight?

Kay uses a specific body position to differentiate which type it is. She uses the type of click and the food delivery- both style and placement- to help shape the behavior. And she uses follow up
behaviors which correlate. In this first photo, Eloise was still wanting to jump up when she heard me click. Continued slow clicks and methodical feeding gradually calmed her to stay in position.

Dogs have many positions they can lie down in. There is the sphinx like position from which they can launch up into activity and there is the position when they are rolled over on one hip- a more relaxed position in which they would be more likely to sleep. There is also the flat out position ("dead dog" in our house). When I pulled Percy's mane this Spring (I had let it get quite long and thick over the winter out of sheer laziness), I reinforced him for longer and longer durations of standing while I worked. I do this when I work on his mane and he's quite good for it (I use a cheater comb so no pain involved!). But this year we added a new twist and I'm thinking that I can use Kay's methods to a specific "stand" while I pull his mane. The twist was that he yawned fairly early on in the process and I clicked because it was a relaxation sign. So he yawned again....and again. But he made himself sleepy in the process! Pretty soon his eyes were drooping and his head was hanging (he was loose in the aisle). Just exactly what I wanted while working away at his mane. Not the "stand" I'd like for a halt in the dressage ring- this was a different behavior. So I think I will intentionally ask for the yawning type of stand in many little sessions while I keep his mane short this summer.

Kay also stresses the importance of watching your animal to know how he or she functions normally- WHICH hip does your dog sleep on most? Observing the dog sleeping on its own will help you determine which position she's most comfortable in and therefore more likely to stay in when put there on cue. Once you get the dog to lie down in front of you- perpendicular to your knees such that when they curl, it is toward you, you then treat by placing the food toward the dog's tummy so it encourages them to relax over onto the far hip. Likewise, while working on Percy's mane, I did not ask him to step back or turn to get the treat. I reached out slowly (but promptly) and delivered it to the low position his head was in. Kay quoted Skinner as saying, "the way the reinforcer is delivered is more important the what the reinforcer is".

Ever know you could click differently according to the behavior you're working on? I do this subconsciously with a tongue click when I'm working with horses- quiet behaviors get a very quiet little almost "tic", whereas active behaviors get a loud "KLOCK". One encourages maintenance of a quiet attitude, the other keeps a horse jazzed up. Kay even does this with the clicker. Using a box clicker, she showed how you can rest your finger flat on the metal piece to quiet the sound (and you can also muffle it behind your back or in a pocket) vs using the tip of your finger to get a louder click. For still behaviors, she also separates the two parts of the click- holding for a bit before releasing the tab. Usually I do this when I click by mistake and wish there was a way to stop mid-click!!!

How you end a training session matters as well. I chose to work on Eloise's "settle" behavior while typing because I knew that Eloise would eventually doze off as she relaxed next to me. She did. Her eyes are open in this final picture because she heard me click the camera.

So alternately, if you want to work on stillness that contains excitement, you feed while they are still in the sphinx position, you use a clear, sharp click, deliver the food fast but in a position that reinforces staying in position and end the behavior by cueing an active behavior or releasing for a wild play session.

This is the type of halt I'd like for a dressage test. Square and collected, ready to spring into the next gait requested.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Clicker Expo!

I finally got to attend Clicker Expo. I've wanted to attend several times and last year even made plans to before life got in the way. You'd think nothing could actually meet the expectations I had built up over all that time but Clicker Expo did. One of my anticipations was actually meeting people face to face that I had befriended via The Click That Teaches yahoo group list and on Facebook. It was great fun and as someone else said, just like seeing old friends.

I also got to see The Great Minds of Clicker Training, hear some of them speak, and even ask a question or two. An added bonus was that a surprise birthday celebration was given for Karen Pryor who will turn 80 in May. I truly hope I am as physically, mentally and emotionally active at that age as she is. What an inspirational woman.

Now I can see the Herculean task that people like Katie Bartlett, Mary Hunter and Amanda Martin take on when reporting back to others about the talks and labs at Expo. Neither Katie nor Mary were at Expo this year (they both attended the ORCA conference - the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies- this year and wrote reports). So I still have meeting them to look forward to at a future Expo. Amanda Martin did attend, however, and I had the great pleasure of rooming with her. Katie, Mary and Amanda all have websites and/or blogs that are well worth looking at to find reports of past Expos, ORCA and other helpful information.

Since they do such a fabulous job of reporting back, and since this blog is really about my experiences with Clicker Training, I thought my approach should be one of sharing tales of putting what I've learned into use. Hopefully that will allow me to stretch my shared experiences over time and encourage me to continue going back to my notes for inspiration. For now I will tease you with the names of the lectures and labs I attended. A lecture is just that, and they were an hour and a half each. The labs were opportunities for those who brought their dogs to get direct instruction from The Greats on the topic just presented and for the rest of us to see the reality of attempting to put skills into action. They were also an hour and a half in length and I really admire those who shipped dogs long distance and were willing to get up in front of a large group AND a great mind, to try their hands.

Friday I attended:
Hang in There! Duration in moving and static behaviors with Kay Laurence (a very entertaining woman in addition to being brilliant)
Generalization- scientifically explored with Jesus Rosales Ruiz. (the man actually put generalization into an algebraic formula!)
Positively Solved, a complete approach to common behavior problems with Debbie Martin and Tia Guest (this was a very practical lecture and a relief after the former head spinning talks)

Theresa McKeon presented a great talk on TAGteach. Theresa is one of my heroes and is a teacher of people that we should all aspire to be like. This talk was for Academy graduates and students only so it was an extra that I felt very fortunate to attend.
1+1=3 Adduction & Combining Cues- Ken Ramirez is a fabulous speaker, teacher and trainer whose day job is the VP of animal collections and training at the famous Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. He showed videos of amazing training of sea animals....and some of his adorable pet dog :)
1+1=3 in action- this was a lab where he helped individuals with the challenge of taking two different behaviors and adding them together to get a novel behavior. What follows is a brief video of one of the attendees whose dog quickly caught on to adding "spin" and picking up his leash, to spinning with his leash.

I topped off a full day with Ken when I attended his Aggression Treatment and Context lecture at the end of the day.
From 4:- 5: there was a panel discussion with Kathy Sdao, Karen Pryor, Jesus Rosales Ruiz, Alexandra Kurland, Aaron Clayton, Ken Ramirez, Julie Shaw and Michelle Pouliot.

The guest speaker that night was Clive Wynne, canine cognition expert from the University of Florida

First off was a presentation from Helix Fairweather on utilizing the module format for designing dog training courses. On the flight home, I scribbled it into a translation for horses and look forward to giving it a try very soon!
The AL-Lure of Luring lab with Kay Laurence- an interesting concept to compare to work with horses.
Smart Reinforcement lab with Ken Ramirez- the use of various reinforcers (play, or tactile reinforcers for instance) and how to be sure that they are truly giving you the reinforcement you desire
Seeing the Future with Alexandra Kurland- a lecture where she showed the advantages of utilizing video and replaying it at various speeds in order to see "what happens before" so that you can predict it the next time.

That will keep me busy for a while, don't you think????